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In relationships, binge drinking can be contagious

What makes people drink too much – work pressure, financial trouble or grief? In some cases, it might be their significant other. A recent study by the Dalhousie University (DU) in Canada suggested that the influence couples have over each other might extend to drinking habit as well.

When consumed in moderate amounts, alcohol can have positive effects on relationships and social bonding. But the DU study showed that couples can pick up on each other’s bad habits if one of them is a binge drinker. The researchers found that many couples use alcohol to relax and bond with each other. Surprisingly, they also found that it is easy for couples to learn unhealthy drinking habit from one another, particularly if one partner is a heavy drinker.

As part of the study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors in February 2017, the researchers examined nearly 180 couples and asked how often each of them had more than five drinks each – or more. A follow-up examination three years later discovered that participants with a partner in the five drinks or more category were drinking more as well.

The authors suggested that both male and female partners may change their drinking patterns to match with that of their partner out of a desire to be accepted, social pressure to adapt to their partners’ habits or because their ideas and attitudes about heavy drinking changed by being with their partner.

The latest study is not the first attempt by the DU researchers to explore the dynamics of drinking in relationships. In 2011, the researchers studied over 200 heterosexual dating couples in their early 20s. The couples had been dating for an average of two years. As the researchers studied the couples, they realized they were able to predict one partner’s binge drinking habit on the basis of the habit of the other partner in the relationship.

Binge drinking is more than health risk

Binge drinking – the most common form of alcohol abuse in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – involves consuming multiple drinks in a two-hour period. For men, the CDC says the amount is around five drinks and for women, it is four.

Binge drinking is not necessarily the same thing as alcoholism. However, binge drinking carries serious health risks. Some of them are:

  • Physical injuries from falls and other accidents – or from fights and assaults
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Greater risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and liver disease

Alcohol can also cause serious problems in relationships. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) cites data, showing a clear relationship between domestic violence and alcohol problems.

Alcohol is addictive

The regular presence of alcohol on tables can make people forget the fact that alcohol can ruin a life as effectively as hard drugs. Sovereign Health of Texas offers evidence-backed, effective treatment for alcohol and drug addiction at our El Paso treatment center. With couples therapy as one of the many treatment options offered, we strive to ensure that every patient has the best chance of a successful recovery. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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